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Quakers and “Vital Christianity”

In the conclusion to A Peculiar People, Joseph John Gurney notes the importance of two phenomena within the Quaker movement:

1) Quaker belief and practice is, when compared to other forms of belief and practice, a bit peculiar. His contention is that such peculiarity has served the Quaker church, and the world which it inhabits, well. Holding onto these peculiarities as the end, though, is futile.

2) Quaker belief and practice rests upon what Gurney calls vital Christianity. That is, it is most pure and true when it rests upon what he labels primitive Christianity – and what we might label orthodoxy.

This interplay of peculiarity and familiarity is essential to health within the larger Quaker movement. Gurney’s quote best sums up the point which I believe is central to this post:

“Solicitous as I am that our peculiar testimonies should be maintained by us with all that faithfulness and vigor which their practical importance demands, I am perfectly aware that they are no sooner separated from vital Christianity than they become vain and unprofitable – deprived at once of all their efficacy and of all their stability.” (451)

This, I believe, has been my particular calling in life – to more fully connect Quaker peculiarity with vital Christianity, to continue to remind myself and others of the necessity of grounding belief in some teleological sense, while also recognizing that all institutions need what Quakers have historically done well – question (some might use the word “query”) the status quo in search of truth.

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Categories: Book Project, Christianity
  1. Pat Pope
    December 25, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    “…question (some might use the word “query”) the status quo in search of truth.”

    Amen and amen!

  2. broschultz
    December 26, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    From what I have read most christian denominations have started with a great move of God in an individual or a small group. After several generations the denomination generally becomes a religious organization that has codified what God used in the original movement into a ritualistic form. What has enabled the Religious Society of Friends to be central in several major movements for good after it’s great spiritual awakening is, in my opinion, its format that allows, if not encourages, all of its members to seek God’s voice in their daily lives and to share what the spirit is saying to the church. Of course the preceding is a very broad generalization. However when all is said and done, Vital Christianity is a living relationship where the body, the church, is not only connected to but moves in obedience to its head, Christ and any peculiarities, Quaker or otherwise, which weaken or even fail to nurture that relationship have outlived their purpose.

  3. December 29, 2010 at 11:38 PM

    It is not preserving peculiarity that is important. What is peculiar changes with the times. It is the values that engender that peculiarity that should be preserved. Plain dress is simply peculiar behavior. Caring about the lives and well being of those who make the goods one consumes is the source of that peculiarity. We may not dress in gray today, because it would serve no practical purpose. But we can refrain from buying $200 sneakers made with slave labor today because of the same values that once dictated gray clothing.

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